The New Full-Service Research Firms

As we all know, clients are increasingly insourcing their research. Many corporations have set up internal insight departments whereby design, analysis, and reporting of surveys can be handled internally.

The key motives for insourcing, as reported in our client survey at the beginning of this year, are cost saving, speed, and aiding the development of in-house research expertise within the client organisation.

However, clients still want to outsource research, particularly if there are labour-intensive elements to projects, e.g. multi-country studies. Other motivations for outsourcing include instances where there is a lot of data visualisation, to gain access to specialists, to obtain local market insights (where clients do not have local offices), etc.

For market-wide studies, clients often bypass the research agency and engage directly with the online panel companies. This practice is now so widespread that the panel companies are setting up dedicated teams specifically to serve end clients. These teams might indeed have experience working for research agencies and can therefore provide more of the ‘full-service research’ that clients previously relied on from agencies.

The full-service offering has included consultancy provided by the panel on questionnaire design and sampling. This has extended to elements of reporting too – for example, dashboard reporting has been a service provided by panel companies for many years, but this is usually for tracking studies with standard reporting metrics that are ‘easy to dashboard’.

But clients are now seeking more from their panel companies. Brand trackers can include a lot of ‘rider questions’ that are not so easy to report through auto-charting programs. Indeed, auto-charting has not really delivered the required outputs that clients want, requiring a lot of ‘human judgement’ and manual charting to put them into a format desired by clients. For this reason, panel companies are now setting up off-shore charting offices manned by ‘human chartists’. This type of work used to be the bread and butter of many research firms – nice, regular revenue generated through trackers that have now been lost to panel companies.

Most people who have worked in research have heard of ‘mission creep’ or ‘scope creep’, being an extension of objectives that leads to more work or more commitment. Hence it is not surprising to hear that clients are now looking for the panel companies to provide analysis, executive summaries, and even recommendations. For many panel companies, this is a step too far as it encroaches on the territory of the full-service research firm.

But would you turn this work down if you could charge for it? •